New Zealand shares its monarch with many other countries in the Commonwealth. As a result the Queen cannot be in New Zealand very often. The Sovereign’s principal constitutional duty, when not in New Zealand, is to appoint a Governor-General. This is done on the advice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
The Governor-General is the Queen’s personal representative in New Zealand. He or she assists the Queen in her responsibilities to New Zealand by exercising the Queen’s powers in her absence.
Neither the Queen nor the Governor-General takes an active role in the day-to-day operations of government. By convention, both almost always act on the advice of Ministers of the Crown.
The Governor-General’s role is often summarised as being composed of constitutional, ceremonial, and community aspects. Constitutional responsibilities are essentially those of the Queen.
The Governor-General must ensure that New Zealand has a functioning government. Tasks undertaken to guarantee this include, signing the writ that triggers a general election; inviting the leader of the political party which gains the support of a majority in Parliament to form a government; and granting assent to the enactment of legislation. The Governor-General also has a number of emergency “reserve powers”. These are very rarely used, but are important nonetheless. The Governor-General is also the Commander-in-Chief of the New Zealand Defence Forces.
The Governor-General takes part in public ceremonies as the individual who represents the nation. This role includes duties such as opening new sessions of Parliament, holding honours investitures, welcoming visiting dignitaries, receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats, and attending Waitangi Day commemorations. Nations all over the world have ceremonial occasions like these. They are an important part of government. They bring colour and life to what many people sometimes find a rather dull subject. Ceremonies are the art in government. Perhaps art is not absolutely necessary anywhere in life, but it definitely makes it better.
The Governor-General provides non-partisan leadership in the community. New Zealand Governors-General are always the patrons of many charitable, service, sporting and cultural organisations. A patron uses his office or position to help a cause raise awareness about their issue. The sponsorship or patronage of the Governor-General signals that an organisation is worthy of wide support.
Many of the Governor-General’s community functions also have a ceremonial dimension, such as attendance at the official openings of buildings, addresses to open conferences, or launching special events and appeals.
During most years, there will be 400 to 500 community functions to attend, all over New Zealand. During these regular visits around the country, the Governor-General meets thousands of New Zealanders where they live and work, and talks and listens to citizens in all walks of life.
This gives him a direct link to how New Zealanders are feeling, without having to rely on polls, politicians, or the media. It also allows him to bring attention to people who have worked hard and deserve recognition. Being thanked by the Governor-General for years of volunteer work, for example, is something not quickly forgotten by many people.